December 18, 2016 — Fourth Sunday of Advent
It was only a few short weeks ago that we began our Advent journeys, and now we find ourselves at the 4th Sunday of Advent with Christmas a short week away. In these final days we need to increase our awareness of all that is going on in our lives. There is inevitably a longing and a desire associated with Christmas, and the purpose of Advent is more than waiting anxiously; we should be preparing to find an intimacy with God.
Christmas should not just be a symbolic feast of God’s presence or just a ritual commemorating the birth of the Lord. It is the Feast of God taking on a real body in the person of Jesus. In this body Jesus offered Himself to His Father. Christmas should be a feast of our consecration to God, and we live out that consecration at this time through the birth of Christ. Now is the time to love one another as He has loved us. Christmas is not an empty feast; it demands a commitment on our part as believers and people of faith.
Our First Reading is from the Prophet Isaiah. Within that reading we hear, “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” How often have we heard that famous prophecy? The older we are the more often most likely. This is such a clear statement of prophecy about the birth of Jesus the Messiah. We know that within a week that prophecy will have a fulfillment, but we also need to be aware that it has a distant fulfillment for us as well.
Jesus is indeed Emmanuel. That means “God with us.” That name has so much significance for us always, but especially at this time. With His birth, the Lord is indeed with us. He is with us in our lives today, and by becoming man He was with us here on earth. It is not just a title; it is a fact. He is both near to us and near to God His Father.
On this Fourth Sunday of Advent the Second Reading comes from the beginning of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, the very beginning. In a sense it is an introduction of himself to the Romans. Scholars have concluded that Paul penned this letter from Corinth while he was en route to Rome; he wanted the Romans to know who he was before he arrived. Paul had been warned that he was in danger and he wanted to make sure he got a communication to the Romans.
In that sense the letter to the Romans is unique among Paul’s many letters. Most of his letters focused on the Church and its challenges and problems. However, this letter is concentrated on God and on His great plan of redemption. That, of course, is why it is significant at this time. Without Christ there would be no redemption; there would be no Christmas; and there would be no Easter either. St. Clement of Rome quoted Paul’s letter so often that some believe he had memorized it. Almost every time there was a meeting or a celebration of the Roman Church, this letter was read.
Paul identifies himself first as a servant of Christ, and then as an apostle of Christ. It is that for which we strive also. At all times, especially at this holy time of Christmas, we need to acknowledge that Christ has called us to serve, just as He served. Then He calls us to discipleship, just as Paul says he was called to be an apostle. That is what stewardship is all about — service and discipleship.
Finally, our Gospel passage from Matthew gives us the exact report of Jesus’ birth. In providing the specific description of the Birth of Christ this Gospel calls us to know, to believe, and to do. Like Mary we believe. Christmas is a feast of faith. Just as Mary gave birth we are called to give birth to Christ in our world through our own faith. We live in a world that desperately needs a Savior, someone who gives ultimate meaning to our lives.
St. Matthew relates the prophecy from Isaiah exactly as we heard it in the First Reading. Jesus is Emmanuel. He is “God with us” as He brings God to us; and He is “God with us” because He lives within us and next to us always. Salvation is here, and it is here in the Person of Jesus Christ.